An interesting thing happened this week that gave me reason to reflect on the fraternity, the family of motorcycle riders that go to unusual lengths to look out for one another. We wave at each other, nod, lift a couple of fingers or just acknowledge another biker while never considering doing the same to all those in their cars.
I’ve observed this all over the country over something like four decades. I once was crossing Ohio, when I caught up with a fellow on a similarly sized bike. After riding a bit together, he motioned to the shoulder under an overpass, and following a quick name exchange, we determined we’d both be going the same way for a bit … at least to New York. He had some cheese, and as luck would have it, I had a bota bag of red wine and bread. Later we parted ways, shaking hands at 70 mph on a busy New York freeway, and I never saw him again.
On another occasion I joined a rider in South Carolina on a run to Daytona. We rode together till the ocean, and since the Beach Patrol wouldn’t let anyone sleep on the beach, we had to take turns staying on guard while the other caught some zzz’s. I never saw him again.
I rode out to San Diego in ‘76, and on the way to Utah, just out of Colorado I ran out of gas. I could see Salida in the distance and was coasting slightly downhill when three good old boys from Rose Hill, Iowa, stopped on a pair of Yamahas and a Honda, and we managed to get enough fuel out of the Honda to let me ride into the city with them. They insisted I tag along as they were headed to Las Vegas. We shared a hotel room, and later I was invited to spend a night at their uncle’s home in Vegas before heading across the desert in the morning. The uncle woke me at 4 a.m. and fed me eggs and toast before I started out. I corresponded with them for many years, sending annual Christmas cards.
Why does this happen? Are we just travelers, or is it more? What makes riders that likely would make no effort to talk to each other if in cars so easily find the common ground of motorcycles the lubricant needed to strike up friendships that can last years? I believe it is the bikes. By choosing to ride we add an element of adventure and a little risk and definitely a degree of roughing it that reminds us we are not common or ordinary. That simple recognition when you encounter another motorcyclist also binds us to the need to look after each other.
The other evening, a customer called me late and having just purchased his first bike that morning, asked me what I thought might be the reason he couldn’t get it started. You see, he had experienced a bit of an incident … it sorta got away from him when he tried to take off, and he was stuck in a neighbor’s yard. Now if you haven’t done something dumb before while on a motorcycle, then you haven’t really been riding much, or worse, you’re not being truthful. I wouldn’t tell this to embarrass the young fellow but rather to compliment him for calling me, a fellow rider, for assistance. After talking him through a couple of ideas I told my wife we needed to put dinner back in the oven and go see if I could get him out of a jam. You can’t leave a guy in a lurch with his new bike stuck in the neighbor’s grass overnight. He’d never get a wink’s sleep, right? It was fine, just a goofy learning moment. He felt really bad about calling me, and I told him “Hey, you’re not drunk, and your last words before taking off weren’t ‘Hey watch this!’ so no worries. We all do goofy stuff.”
As I drove home Nan and I reflected on the people we know that ride and couldn’t think of any one of them that wouldn’t do the same thing any time. Alan, Bud, Bill, Don, Danny, Gary, Brent, Mark, Mike, Jim. Heck, Jim would ride home, hook up the trailer and drive back to Arkansas if needed.
Dustin would lend you his trailer and bring it to you. A couple of years back a customer was trailering his bike in for service, saw a couple on the road broke down, so he unloaded his bike, loaded their bike onto his trailer, gave them the keys to his bike and had them follow him to our shop. Who does that? Bikers.
A lot of years ago when I was young, I took off for a trip but had failed to gas up. I had not gone far when reserve went dry, and I was pushing the bike in the wrong direction when a guy in a truck stopped. He asked if I had anything to put gasoline in so I dumped out my canteen and a few minutes later he was back with a quart of fuel. He wouldn’t let me pay him, said it had happened to him once, and he was not allowed to pay either. I always carried a quart of gas after that when on a trip (I had already used it when I ran out in Utah!). I got to pay it forward one day, when I came upon a guy pushing his bike. I suspect he, too, paid it forward.
As Nan and I returned home we realized we didn’t know any of our motorcycle friends that would not have done the same thing, and that makes me pretty proud of our fraternity. It is a special thing we share, and frankly, the rest of the folk could learn something about how to treat each other. So I thank all of you for being cool. There is a little Fonzie, a little Jim Bronson, a bit of Steve McQueen in us all, and the next time we pass, if you throw the H-D two wheels down, and I toss back the two up for peace or even Rocket’s wild wave, ride easy friend, you’re not alone.
Tim Woodsome and his wife, Nan, are owners of Cruisin’ 66, a Victory, Motus, Royal Enfield and Ural dealer in Ozark, Mo.